There are still many challenges self-storage operators will face as we move into 2011. A generally slow economy, increased expenses, stressed-out customers, more competition, and an overall negative feeling are just a few of the issues the industry has weathered over the past three years. Along with developers oversupplying certain areas of the country, the pressure on our industry is at an all-time high, and affects your facility in one way or another.
With so many factors working against self-storage operators, how do we combat them? One of the most important tasks of an owner, investor, management company, regional manager/director or facility trainer is making sure the company’s most important assets—its employees—are up to date on all aspects of their job. This includes areas such as legislation, technology, management techniques and operational methods.
Legislation is an extremely important topic all self-storage employees should be vigilant in researching. Have the laws regarding late fees or lien sales in your state changed in the last year? Has the sales-tax rate changed? Are you required to collect a sales tax in 2011?
Most states have unique laws regulating late fees, customer access, sales tax and, most important, lien sales. Since each state has its own unique self-storage statutes, the best and most efficient way to keep up with changing legislation is to become a member of your state’s self-storage association. The associations have the most direct link to a state’s legislature and will be able to distribute any changes in state laws to you quickly. If your state doesn’t have an association, consider working with the national Self Storage Association.
Another way to keep up with legislative changes is to attend legal workshops or seminars. Almost every tradeshow or seminar has at least one session dedicated to changes in legislation. These sessions are invaluable in keeping up to date with the changes that affect our industry. Lastly, consider having an attorney review your rental agreement and procedures on a regular basis.
Over the last five years, technology in the self-storage industry has moved at the speed of light. The Internet has changed how we operate. Gone are the days of looking at a Yellow Pages ad and finding a self-storage facility on a map. Now you just Google the information (as if “Google” was a verb in our vocabulary all along). Online management software, electronic kiosks, search-engine optimization, online referral services, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google-based bar codes are just some of the items being implemented at self-storage facilities nationwide.
So, how do you keep up with all of these changes? Industry tradeshows are one of the best ways to keep up with technology that’s storage-specific. Attend any show, and you’ll come away with a technological idea or product you didn’t even know existed.
Another way to keep up with technology is to do some research online. There’s an endless number of blogs and websites that review everything from software to hardware. In addition, you should read self-storage trade magazines. Each month, you’ll pick up an idea you can integrate into your operation, often for little or no investment.
One of the best ways to learn about technology is to experiment. If you see an item that interests you, rent or purchase it and learn how to use it. Consider buying a Smartphone, laptop, iPod or iPad. Download a demonstration copy of software that interests you. If this research is overwhelming, consider hiring a consultant to review your operations. Most self-storage management companies and industry consultants are familiar with the technology necessary for the day-to-day operation of a successful self-storage facility.